Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Carlo Minciacchi, who is the founder of Leapian.
In 2015, my life changed when I completed a 10 day Vipassana silent meditation retreat. This is the kind of retreat during which you wake up before the sun rises, practice meditation for the whole day and sometimes well into the night. These were the hardest days of my life and, at the same time, the most important ones. Without going into too much detail, my interests have always been towards understanding things and towards self-development, but it wasn’t until after university that I started experimenting with meditation. During the 4 years of the degree, I lost control over my mind and developed very deep negative thought patterns. This was mainly the combination of several unwanted things happening, and being in a hyper-competitive and intense university. These thought patterns were ruining my life and at times made me quite an unpleasant person to be around. I used to be the kind of person that criticises and judges everything. I used to think that all the problems in my life were caused by things external to me. Because of meditation practice, I very quickly understood that the root cause of all of my problems was a lack of control over my mind and self-awareness. After three years into my practice, I am much happier, calm and balanced. I rarely get angry and if I do, it passes in a matter of minutes. I am also healthier: I have only been ill once in three years, whereas before I’d fall ill every time I took a holiday or a break from work. Meditation is the gym for the mind. In a nutshell, the techniques help you control the mind by raising your awareness and focus, and they're designed to break negative mental patterns, replacing them with positive ones. During the practice, we slow down our thinking, which eradicates agitation, anxiety and leads to several health benefits. With meditation, you develop the ability to identify those same behaviours and patterns in other people, making you able to really understand others and not judge them. By getting rid of negative mental patterns, we start discovering our good qualities. Inner joy starts emerging and we feel like we want to share this with everyone - that we want everyone to be happy. To start meditation there are several things you can do:
As a complete beginner, you can download one of the guided meditation apps and practice a few minutes each day. The benefit is clearer thinking and a reduction in stress.
Finally, if you feel that meditation is something you wish to explore deeper more, you could try a meditation course. The courses are varied, and can last 3, 7 or even 10 days. They teach different techniques and are typically held at a meditation centre where you will be under the guidance of a teacher. For the most impact, I would join courses that are in silence and in a quiet environment outside of a large city. Some good courses are: The Art of Living, Burgs’ Meditation Retreats, and Vipassana.
If meditation doesn’t resonate with you, there are many other practices that have very similar effects both on the mind and the body. These include any activity that requires deep mental focus such as yoga, martial arts, deep music practice, creative writing - essentially, any activity where you gradually learn how to clear the mind and reach a deeper mental state. The benefits of spending time in these states are immense for our wellbeing and health.
I believe that now is the right time to take up meditation. We have more external stressors (amongst many other things: social media, news, television, for example) and the need to control the mind is becoming ever more important. To tackle society’s biggest challenges we need cooperation and a strong mind. However, without focus and control, the increase in distraction and loss of attention is becoming a hurdle towards an individual’s ability to achieve one’s objectives. At a community level, in my eyes, society is becoming fragmented, individualistic and there is a sense we are all in competition, unable to see that we are all the same and together on this planet. For these reasons, regaining control over our minds is very important towards progress. The academic world has (finally) started seriously researching meditation and the mind, although I won’t go into details for this post. There are studies that show how we can make use of larger parts of our brain during meditation, making us more able, creative and intelligent. In the book Hyperfocus, Chris Bailey makes the case for how Meditation is the only way shown to have a long term effect at improving the working memory capacity of the brain. Some people believe that there are things we can do with our mind that go beyond our current understanding of the physical world (some techniques claim the ability to heal people remotely, to communicate to different people at the same time, to manipulate matter etc, though these methods have no to little scientific evidence backing them beyond placebo effects and imagination). With an open mind and curiosity, there are many fun discoveries to be made in this field, which we are only just starting to unearth. I believe that meditative practices are the most effective way to shape ourselves and our world. If everyone seriously practiced and experimented with self-introspection, we would all be much happier and our external world (society) would positively reflect that.